Almost a month after San Luis Obispo County ended a program aimed at giving homeless individuals a safe place to park their cars, sleep, and shower during the coronavirus pandemic, a similar program is up and running. But the new safe parking program—an extension of an already existing project at 40 Prado Homeless Services Center—is geared toward a more specific demographic and won’t serve as many people as the county’s initial effort.
PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
MORE THAN PARKING In partnership with the city and county of SLO, 40 Prado Homeless Services Center expanded a safe parking program aimed at giving homeless individuals a safe place to park their cars, sleep, and shower during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a July 17 press release, SLO County announced that through a partnership with the city of SLO and 40 Prado, a long running safe parking program operated by 40 Prado would be expanded to offer 10 additional spaces starting on July 20. Through the program, individuals living in their cars can safely park overnight at 40 Prado, and access showers, meals, mental and physical health services, and housing case management.
Although the current program won’t be able to support as many people in as much of the county as the initial project, County Administrative Officer Wade Horton said that by partnering with 40 Prado, those entering the program will get more than just a shower and a safe place to park.
“This is a better program because now we can provide those wraparound services for these folks,” Horton said.
While 40 Prado will be providing the staff, services, and space, Horton said the county and city of SLO will be splitting the estimated $22,000 it will take to expand the program through Dec. 31 as planned.
The current expansion is an effort to offer some continuing support to those who used a similar parking program that SLO County launched in late March, shortly after the first few cases of COVID-19 trickled into the area and various businesses and services started closing down. That, Horton said, led to concerns that the public showers homeless people often use at local gyms and campgrounds wouldn’t be available for the duration of the pandemic.
Through the county’s program, people experiencing homelessness were able to park their cars and sleep in them from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day at the San Luis Obispo Veteran’s Hall and the Los Osos Library parking lots. Hot showers and bathrooms were available at those sites several days each week, and showers were also available during the day at the Coastal Dunes RV Park and Campground.
But all three sites closed when the program ended as planned on June 30
, just as SLO County started reporting record rates of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Grace McIntosh, deputy director of CAPSLO, the organization that oversees 40 Prado, said those three sites averaged between about 10 and 22 patrons a day. Even after the expansion, 40 Prado only has room for 17. And although 40 Prado’s rules for entering the safe parking program are considered low-barrier, they’re more restrictive than the county.
Some homeless advocates thought it was the county’s lax rules that made the original parking program so successful. For example, at some sites, the county allowed attendees to come and go throughout the night without losing a spot.
Those interested in 40 Prado’s program also have to be serious about looking for permanent housing to be eligible. Some people like living in their cars, and McIntosh said they deserve a safe place to park, too. But 40 Prado’s overall goal is to get people into housing. ∆